Remember the song “It’s Raining Men”? Well, I’ve never experienced such a phenomenon, but for the past year it’s definitely been raining babies around here. It’s like the windows of heaven have been opened and new little souls are falling into my life everywhere I look. I no longer have a newsfeed on Facebook; it’s now a baby feed.
I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised. I’m 28, and most of my friends are my age and into their early thirties. It’s “time”—whatever that means. Since my husband Robert and I married a year ago, we’ve always laughed off the “so when are you having kids?” question with “oh, ten years or so” kind of answers. But the deluge of babies in my life are having an “everybody’s doing it” (literally—HA!) peer pressure about them, and I’m second-guessing the loose timeline we’ve created.
But the truth is, I am terrified of having a baby. I’m scared of losing the life Robert and I share, of losing freedom and fun and, yes, my halfway decent figure. I pop birth control pills with the determination and discipline of a soldier—no babies on my watch. All the while in the back of my mind I hear a little tap-tap-tap, the secret code the Holy Spirit uses to let me know fear is driving my actions. This isn’t the first time—it’s my M.O. to draw up the blueprints for my perfect life and present the plans to God, asking him to bless them.
My reluctance to experience one of the most life-changing events possible is not surprising—I’ve never liked change. In the past, though, God has had a way of preparing me for change long in advance so I’m not a total basket case when it arrives. Back in my post-college traveling days, marriage was a totally unappealing idea to me. I wondered if perhaps I would turn out to be a single missionary after all. But I knew that deep down, one day, I wanted to be married. The preparing of my heart came so slowly and gradually that the first time I actually admitted out loud I wanted to find someone and get married, it still surprised me.
I can’t say I’ve gotten the hang of marriage yet, but I do like the feeling of getting the hang of something, be it a job or a new city or a life stage. The very nature of life, however, never allows you to stay in that place for long—knowing what’s best and most effective, how to avoid mistakes and conflict. In Barbara Kingsolver’s The Poisonwood Bible, one character says, “To live is to be marked. To live is to change, to die one hundred deaths.” And this, truly, is what I am resistant toward. I am resistant toward those hundred, those thousand deaths that make up a true, growing life, keeping us from stagnation and decay. The death of dependence as I walked into adulthood and learned to pay my own bills and manage my own affairs. The death of childhood friendships as we diverged into different life phases—marriage, children, singleness—and could not keep our ties tight enough. The death of dreams, of relationships, of innocence, of longtime habits and sins, of ideals and ignorance. We all die these deaths.
And yet if we have lived long enough to be marked by death, we know by now the great mystery that death brings life; all births require a kind of death. To live is to die a hundred deaths, but you might as well say to live is to be born over and over again. It is the approach to that birth that we fear and resist and see as death. But the pain of letting go of my girlish dependence made way for the birth of the woman Joy. One day, this fear and pain of giving up my independence will make way for myself to be born again as a mother—just as the literal pain I endure will bring forth my own baby. Frederick Buechner, speaking of Mary giving birth to Jesus as a metaphor for all of us, says we have every reason to be afraid of giving birth. “It is by all accounts a painful, bloody process at best…the wrenching and tearing of it; the risk that we will die in giving birth; more than the risk, the certainty, that if there is going to be a birth, there is first going to have to be a kind of death. One way or another, every new life born out of our old life . . . looks a little like raw beefsteak before it’s through. If we are not afraid of it, then we do not know what it involves.”
And so for me, the labor pains have begun once again. It will be a long labor as I work through my fear and dread of becoming a mother, though I have no idea what that will look like. Perhaps a child from my own flesh, perhaps an adopted baby from somewhere and someone else. But the birthing process, and the first terrified and joyful weeks, will be raw, because that is an essential quality of new life. And I must labor again when I agonize over my children’s taking flight from our nest, and I must be reborn as another woman, another Joy, and learn to give birth to other ideas, relationships, and dreams. Oh God, let me never resist the deaths and the births that make up my life.
Joy provided us with an artistic playlist for the theme of loss. Here’s what she recommends:
Film: Chocolat - a classic coming of age story, one or my favorites, and a wonderful depiction of diverse characters–and even an entire town–learning to let go in different ways in order to open up to new ways of being. The gorgeous costumes and music don’t hurt either.
Song: ”Learning How to Die” by Jon Foreman - I had this song stuck in my head while I was writing a piece last fall about Fuller professor Tommy Givens and his experience of watching his father die of a debilitating disease and his resulting thoughts on death, and American attitudes toward it…In our interviews, Tommy often talked of the concept of “learning how to die well.”
Book: A Room Called Remember by Frederick Buechner-The Buechner quote in my essay comes from a piece in this collections entitled ”Air for Two Voices,” in which Buechner discusses the relationship between death and birth much more eloquently than i ever could. Every essay in this book will give you something to chew on for days. I am forever grateful to Rob Johnston and his Theology and Contemporary Literature class, because that is where I was first introduced to Frederick Buechner.
Art: Frida Kahlo “My Birth” - Warning: graphic imagery. This work shows Kahlo giving birth to herself. It was painted not long after she suffered a miscarriage and the death of her mother. I think it depicts the unique feminine journey through birth, death, and loss and how all of those can be experienced–literally and figuratively–by a a woman all at the same time. Kahlo experienced tragedies, traumas, and suffering in her life and seemed to be a woman who was constantly reinventing herself–giving birth to a new version of herself–yet at the same time being true to the person she always was.
Joy Netanya Thompson is a freelance writer based in Denver, Colorado. Since she was a small child, writing has been a part of Joy’s life—she even penned stories about her poodle, Max, and his global travels. Throughout her childhood, teen years, and into college, Joy wrote stories, poetry, and later, narrative essays. After graduating summa cum laude from Life Pacific College in San Dimas, CA, with a BA in Biblical Studies, Joy spent time working as a substitute teacher for Opportunities for Learning, a charter high school that reaches out to at-risk youth. After two years of volunteer work abroad, Joy returned to Southern California to attend Fuller Theological Seminary, from which she graduated in June 2012 with her Master of Arts in Theology. While studying at Fuller, Joy worked as an editorial assistant for the seminary’s Office of Public Affairs. In her three years at Fuller, Joy wrote constantly—feature pieces for Fuller’s website, academic papers for her classes, and narrative essays for the student publication, the Semi. Her capstone project was a collection of essays entitled Telling the Treasure: Reflections, Essays, and Anecdotes from a Backslidden Mystic. Her literary inspiration comes from C.S. Lewis, Anne Lamott, Fredrick Buechner, Roald Dahl, and Madeleine L’Engle, to name a few. In December 2011 Joy Moyal married Robert Thompson, an L.A. native with a penchant for cycling and adventure. Website